Bandai Namco definitely knows a bit about difficult games to beat, having launched the first two Dark Souls game to great acclaim. The Japanese publisher has also learned a little bit about recreating the mood of the game. As the launch of Dark Souls III draws closer, the company invited various international gaming media down to Hamburg, Germany, for a closer look at the final product just before its April release.

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Held in the dimly lit Kulturkirche Altona in Hamburg, the entire set-up was ripe for penance – not from any real life monstrosities to plead for their lives, but from the dozens of journalists who got to try their hands at the latest in From Software’s upcoming Dark Souls III.

If there is one mainstay of Europe, it would be the endless amount of churches found on this continent. I’m not sure what made this church stand out, but finding a place of worship that had been converted into commercial space fitting for Dark Souls III was the reason why I travelled all the way here from Singapore, to soak in the atmosphere. And it all started with entering via the main door, flanked by cauldrons of fire.

Which was actually something to appreciate, given Hamburg’s really crazy winter.

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Inside the main church, the various journalists were ushered to the pews, where game consoles were hooked up to a large screen TV. There were quite a number of us on each pew, which makes sense, but it got to a point where I wanted to do things that would have sent me straight to hell.

Every time someone seated on my row died in a game, the entire pew would rock. This would be followed by some mild cussing (we were in a church after all) about how the game was “bullshit”. In an era where games contain plenty of hand holding, Dark Souls III manages to avoid all of those pitfalls and remember, this was a church filled veteran journalists from around the world, the same folks who know their way around a game controller.

Expletives in a church, it can’t get any worse than that with this lot.

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Despite the tuned down difficulty, it took me some time to get through the first large enemy of the game. He’s just there as a gatekeeper to build up a taste of what more gamers can expect after him. And to be honest, failing to get past the first five minutes of the game gives the player a good impression of whether Dark Souls is the right purchase.

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Judging by the pools of blood strewn all over the arena (we were all playing in the same world), my guess is that the other gaming journalists were not faring any better right from the start too.

In exploring Dark Souls III, the best way to approach this would be to take things slow and with your shield raised up. After four similar titles (yes, we consider Demon’s Souls to be part of the family), there should not be much of a surprise how the beginning of each game should start on out.

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Dark Souls III does not feel the slightest bit of shame in throwing wave after wave of enemies after you. The game is content is throwing more than softballs at me, by making me face two Red Knights at the same time, while being pretty underleveled. There’s only so much energy available for dodging when there are two of these guys swinging towards you.

The game takes on a familiar pattern of spawning regular enemies, before ending off with a large non-boss opponent just to make you lose all those Souls that you’ve been painfully accumulating.

I didn’t have enough time to make it really far into the game, but the difficulty level here seemed to be on par with that of the previous versions, if not potentially slightly harder. I do foresee that many a player (especially if you are new) would backtrack constantly to level up your character by spending Souls.

Souls are earned through defeating enemies gradually, and backtracking and teleporting back to your main hub causes all enemies to respawn again. Similar to how the game of designed in Dark Souls II, the hub is where you level up your core stats and improve your arsenal of abilities.

If you’re new to the series, be prepared for the constant grind. The more skilled players will save a great amount of time by making it to checkpoints with plenty of health to spare. The longest that I went within the demo was a good hour and a half before successfully hitting a checkpoint at my third rest stop. Make sure to explore every nook and cranny before moving on to a different area, as you might miss a critical rest point. While the game’s difficulty might have been lowered for this media session, the price of failure here is equally punishing. The combination of holding on to a bounty of souls to spend, while being low on health is an incredibly stressful scenario.

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One thing is for certain, beautiful landscapes mark the land, and you go from ramparts to inner castle ruins. The shift from sunlit castle wall to dark dungeon is astounding, and the game seems to really make full use of the present generation’s console processing power. However, when the action gets really heavy and in-your-face, I noticed small instances of frame rate drops which can mean life or death for you. To be specific, I was playing the demo build on the XBOX ONE.

The landscape is drawn in a way that you can always look ahead, and back, to see where you’d possibly be heading to and how far you have come. Grazing into the distance and seeing a dragon perched upon the top of a castle makes you wonder if there are worse fates that behold your journey ahead.

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The real enemy here might be the game’s camera, which I cannot say I’m the biggest fan of. The wisest thing one can really do in Dark Souls III is to avoid fighting in enclosed spaces. This is not because a wall might get in the way of a crucial dodge-roll, but the camera likes to place itself behind the wall in such moments. When enemies in Dark Souls III love to swing in 3-4 hit sequences, you better know where you’re rolling or else it’s an early death.

To round it all off, I came face to face with Dark Souls III’s Prestige Edition. Tucked right in the corner of the church like some lootbox or checkpoint waiting to be found.

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The main highlight of this would be a 40cm Lord of Cinder statue that goes along with another 25cm Red Knight Statue, cloth map, arm patches and an art book plus the game of course in a steelbook. The Lord of Cinder statue looks to make up most of the weight of the package and if you’re looking to score one now, they look to be selling out (or have already sold out) as of writing.

Can a video game’s collector’s edition get any bigger? It seems that the folks at Bandai Namco and From Software didn’t get the memo. This beast is huge and I’ve personally spoken to someone who knows an individual who would be splashing the cash to ship this monster in.

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Considering that this might be the final Dark Souls game ever (I highly doubt so though), it might be a good investment to shell out for this collector’s edition if you are a fan of the series, to cap off a good end to the trilogy.

While Dark Souls III seems rather vanilla from the beginning, it does feel as though there’s plenty of punishment waiting to be unleashed. Move slowly and keep your shield up, wise words that I’ve come to live by.



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Gerald

Gerald

Gerald currently straddles between his love of video games and board gaming. There's nothing that interests him more than trying out the newest and fanciest gadget in town as well. He dreams of publishing a board game sometime in the future!